Trans awareness training with Amanda Jette Knox

There’s a Memoir No. 2! 😆

About this event

In her signature talk, based on her bestselling book by the same name, Amanda shares the personal story of her family’s journey through two transitions and demonstrates how everyone can make a difference by overcoming fear and embracing change.

You will leave this presentation with more knowledge of what it is like to be a trans person in a family or in the workplace, the obstacles faced in transition, and how to be a better ally, family member or friend. In addition, Amanda brings to life the necessity of facing mental illness without stigma, through her lived experiences.

Concrete suggestions are given on allyship, including the importance of not assuming pronouns, making room for gender-neutral terminology, and understanding that gender is not a binary. With lessons in authenticity, messaging, boundary-setting and resilience, audiences will be encouraged to safeguard their own wellbeing and that of others.

Targeted Audience: All federal public servants at all levels

Presented by:

Amanda Jetté Knox, She/Her/They/Them

National Bestselling Author, Award-winning Writer, Human Rights Advocate

Hosted by:

Canadian Innovation Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace

From the blurb on Eventbrite

The Mavis of Mayhem

Amanda Jette Knox’s twitter handle is the Maven of Mayhem, though I see she has dropped that moniker from her website. Regular readers will remember that I stoically reviewed her biography, Loves Lives Here – A Story of Thriving in a Transgender Family. A fantastical tale in which we learn about her being a ball of fire, rabid alcoholism and then rehab, the discovery of her ‘trans daughter’ (now ‘non-binary’) and subsequent ‘lesbianism’ after her man put on a bit of lippy. Back then she was still calling herself a boring ‘cis lesbian’ – so what happened?

Well, the short answer is that Amanda has had a new haircut and added a new pronoun. If you want the long answer, you’ll have to read on.

The Mavis starts to jabber

So let’s bear in mind that Amanda was addressing public servants to the Canadian government and was thus essentially delivering trans awareness training to them. Around three hundred people attended.

She started by encouraging us to ‘take a breath and sit back’ and ‘be with me’. She wanted us to take care of ourselves. She wanted us to understand why we needed to listen to people like her and others who ‘wanted to make changes in the world’. She gave trigger warnings for the supposedly strong content she was going to be discussing.

She forgot ‘Get a Flock of Seagulls haircut’

Like all good dramas, begin somewhere in the middle

Amanda lives in an average house on an average street with her averagely sized family on their average sized pay packets, but they were harbouring a special secret … first, however, Amanda wanted people to know all about her back story.  Short of reading out her entire memoir, Amanda’s tale of woe began with being bullied for not speaking French, becoming an alcoholic aged 12 and doing drugs aged 14.  

Being on fire

Her dramatic spiral into drugs and booze all came about because some girls thought it would be funny to try and set her on fire.  The girls sprayed her back with hairspray and then threw lighted matches at her.  Amanda told us she did the ‘stop, drop and roll’ thing as she was ‘taught to do’ and she told us she was ‘okay physically’ but not mentally.  

As I say, I have read the book so I happen to know it was a ‘thick cotton sweater’ (loc 367) which was doused in hairspray (two highly flammable substances) and she describes in the book that her ‘back went up in flames’.   Quite how she was spared any serious injury or the assailants criminal charges is quite the mystery.

A reminder of how flammable hairspray is, i.e. very.

They tried to make me go to Rehab
But I said yes, yes, yes

Next Amanda briefly mentioned her six month stay in a rehab centre aged 14.  At 16 she moved out of home to experience ‘homelessness’, sleeping in shelters, sofa surfing and the odd stairwell of apartment buildings.  Whilst living in a halfway house she went to a party and met an ‘amazing person’. 

Definitely not straight, no way

One of the things which had set her apart from her peers and perhaps a cause for her being bullied was that she wasn’t attracted to men or boys ‘whatsoever’.  She had tried but nah.  She had always been into women.  She saw this ‘person’ at this party who she really fancied, but they looked like a guy.  Confusing, eh?

It was a love at first sight and they moved in together after a month and worked out their problems together.  Aged 19 Amanda became pregnant by this ‘person’.  They bought a house in the suburbs.  Amanda thought to herself she had ‘made it’, thinking she could coast for the rest of her life and blend in with everyone else and no one would ever judge her again.  

Fly in the ointment

By the time she was 30 she had had three children and the family were living in the house they still currently live in.  It was 2013.  If you asked her what the family were then, she would have told you they were a mum, a dad and three boys.  Everything was great, but their middle son, aged 11 at the time, was really struggling with his mental health.  Things came to a head when Amanda’s family came over to celebrate his 11th birthday, with the child leaving the celebration with a piece of cake and retreating to his bedroom (sounds normal to me).  ‘What 11 year old doesn’t want to be part of their own birthday, right?’ Amanda said, explaining her ‘heartbreak’ about the situation.  

Amanda and her spouse tried everything; counselling, different styles of parenting, talking to the school but nothing was working.  Finally though they found a new doctor who was open to trying medication with the child and he started two tablets, one for depression and another for anxiety.  The darkness lifted and the child was then able to figure out ‘who they really were’.  

On Pink Shirt Day, a day when you can show solidarity to those who are bullied (it sounds like there is an emphasis on homophobia and transphobia) it had been difficult buying some pink shirts for her three boys, but Amanda managed it and felt like she was ‘winning’ at parenting.   This all blew up, however, when the ‘person she was married to’ showed her an email from their middle child on his mobile phone.  

Amanda’s little one comes out

One day Amanda’s ‘little one’ typed into a computer search engine ‘Why do I feel like a girl when I’m a boy’.  And thus Amanda’s little one was alerted to the fact that there were others out there who felt the same and ‘they weren’t alone’.  

Amanda apologised in advance for the lack of sophistication of her 11 year old’s prose.  The email said: ‘Please don’t be mad, please try to understand, I am a girl trapped in a boy’s body and more than anything else, I need to not be a boy.  Please don’t be mad at me and please don’t come into my room until you have time to think about this.’  Amanda then told us that the 11 year old had used ‘genius’ language.  Um, okay.  Make your mind up.  

Amanda explained to us that sending emails informing people about a new piece of information about yourself creates ‘a buffer between you and them’.  Amanda and the ‘person she was married to’, went into the ‘little person’s room’, and the ‘little person’ was ‘shaking and sobbing’ under the bedcovers.  It was the ‘saddest thing’ she had ever seen one of her children do.  Amanda and the ‘person she is married to’ got into the bed, ‘one on each side’ and hugged ‘them’.

Later Amanda cried, especially looking at the stats online for transgender people – high suicide rates, high rates of addiction and homelessness (just like Amanda’s own story) and food insecurity (just like Amanda’s own story).  That was the night that Amanda decided she would become an activist for the transgender community.  

At that time Amanda was known in the local area for her blog writing and basically admitted she could see this would increase her fame.  

Our child today, while they started off identifying as a trans girl, has, um- further along this journey has said “I think I feel more non-binary”. 

Amanda explaining why she was using they/them pronouns, rather than she/her. Awkward.

She went onto explain that being an ‘amazing support’ to her middle son had really paid off.  She seemed bereft of any embarrassment whatsoever that he hadn’t actually been ‘born in the wrong body’ after all. She boasted her son is now a ‘college grad’ (i.e. the educational equivalent of getting on and off a bus) who was now thinking about university.  

Selective editing

She chose not to mention that they had put their son on puberty blockers at Tanner stage 3 of puberty, which was almost immediately after he supposedly ‘came out’ (‘I had put Alexis on the list for the hospital’s gender diversity clinic the week after she came out’ – loc 1456). Nor that following commencement of puberty blockers his mental health dipped even further, requiring, for example, ‘several hours of encouragement’ before he would bathe (loc 1601) and such like.

The person who she is married to comes out

Having a trans child wasn’t the only thing going on with her family though!  ‘The person she was married to’ was also not very happy.  She couldn’t figure out what was going on.  They went on a date night and on the drive home it came out.  The spouse was completely happy being with her, the kids, their life – everything.  

‘Are you gay?’ she asked him.  

‘No, I’m not gay,’ said her husband (Amanda shrewdly reflected this was ‘kind of lie’).  

Amanda ran out of ideas after that and randomly asked him instead ‘Are you a woman?’ because ‘What else was I going to ask at this point?’.  Hubby didn’t answer, but Amanda noticed all the sounds around.  The rain on the windshield, the sound of traffic passing.  Dramatic stuff. 

This was a catalyst for their lives changing again (just in case you nodded off, this is actual training that Amanda was delivering to Canadian civil servants) and unfortunately Amanda initially responded terribly towards the person she is married to. She wouldn’t share with us what she said at the time because of its inappropriateness and told us ‘she still bugs me about it today’.  This new finding made a lot of sense to Amanda, having been – you know – completely averse to the male of the species her whole life.  

This was now 2015 and although Amanda was accepting, she was worried about how the change would affect the family and her ‘wife’s’ job.  Amanda promised ‘her’ that night in the car park of a suburban Walmart that she would be there the whole way.  Amanda gave a little ironic – and one suspects practised – snort at the mundane scene in which it had unfolded.

Amanda then needlessly shared personal family photos with us use as proof that they ‘had made it’ and that she and ‘Zoe’ were thriving together.  

The workplace

In the first relevant piece of information for this workplace webinar, Amanda explained to us how her man had decided to come out at work.  He spoke to HR first and then he got all his legal ID changed and sent an email to 300 of his colleagues.  He told everyone that he was ‘the same person I’ve always been’ but that they had to refer to him by his new female name and new pronouns.  He wanted to be treated the same as everyone had treated him before.  

Within minutes he received dozens of supportive emails, yet still took a week off work to brace himself for the big change.  Amanda offered to put her ‘advocacy pants on’ and attend work with him, which he declined, which is understandable.  

Colleagues celebrated his transition by decorating his work cubicle with rainbows and butterflies.  Later in the day was a coming out party with cupcakes (because he’s a girl).

She reminded the audience that the world was very tough right now for trans people and to be supportive of trans colleagues or even colleagues who had trans people in their families.  Trans people who didn’t have family might only have their workplace as a place of support.  Be that ‘safe person’ who was prepared to listen, learn, and to apologise quickly and move on when you made mistakes.

Downfall

Wrapping up, Amanda told us about her ‘severe mental crisis’ which began in May 2020.  She explained that the combination of working as an activist, her past trauma (i.e. not being set on fire) and some horrible things being said to her online had culminated in a break down.  The social media pile-on lasted for a whole week and Amanda admitted it broke her, but failed to mention that the attacks had come from other trans activists.

Jonathan Kay of Quillette wrote an excellent article at the time of Knox’s cancellation, detailing the online ruckus and how trans activists labelled her as having ‘cis privilege’ and ‘taking up too much room’ when there were more deserving people to be heard (i.e. ‘real’ trans-identified people) so it is entirely understandable that on Amanda’s return to social media she has regenerated herself as a non-binary. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

But the internecine fight I’m describing here wasn’t really about “gender ideology” (if we’re even allowed to use such a term): Every one of the aforementioned Twitter combatants, including Knox and Benaway, are fully orthodox members of the trans activist community. This wasn’t about who gets to play in what sports league or use what bathroom, because everyone involved in the discussion is fully on board with male bodies in female spaces. The entire argument was about whether one particular trans ally had become too famous at the expense of more worthy and authentic competitors.

From ‘As Common Sense Returns to the Gender Debate, Radicals Set Upon Their Own Allies’ by Jonathan Kay

Amanda had been close to suicide and realising she was desperate, drove herself to hospital where they quickly diagnosed her with complex PTSD.  She had spent the last two years healing.  It was during the healing process she had discovered she was non-binary. She explained this means she isn’t a woman and isn’t a man but somewhere along the ‘sexy gender spectrum’.  She thinks she has always known that she was non-binary but had buried it.  

So Amanda had had to come out to her family.  Of course, everyone was great.  (I can just imagine the scenes: ‘Mom, says she’s non-binary now’, ‘Oh right’).  Not only that but her marriage improved even more, such is the ‘beauty of authenticity’.   

Amanda finally showed a slide with her contact details (she has four active social media accounts), and of course details of her memoir, that she may as well have read out to us.  She encouraged us to make contact.  

Question and Answer

The host told us that many questions had come in and noted that many of the attendees had become tearful during Amanda’s dreary talk.  She herself was normally distracted in such webinars but Amanda’s talk had fascinated her so much she was barely aware of the time passing.  

Without your book, even before my child shared their true self with me, where I can find local resources in order to help my non-binary child and to help my family on this journey? 

Amanda recommended their local PFLAG group.  She also recommended a website called http://www.gendercreativekids.ca (website not working at the time of writing but this link gives some details) which would be especially good for ‘non-binary’ kids.  It was Montreal-based but did national work too.  

How can I be better ally for my friend who is transgender?  How can I make their life easier? 

Make sure you educate yourself from resources from approved LGBTQIS2A+ sources.  Read the memoirs, watch the documentaries!  The community was so tiny but got so many more attacks in comparison to other populations.  We need people to combat ‘misinformation’ and ‘disinformation’.  We need people who could come forward and say ‘no, five year olds don’t take hormones’ and Amanda clarified this didn’t happen until ‘well into the teenage years’ (or 11/12 in the case of her own child).  

We heard a lot about your relationship with your wife, can we have more information about compassion in the workplace?

Everyone in the workplace should receive sensitivity training or holding sessions like this on important days like this (it was IDAHOBIT). Ensure that people use gender neutral language, like ‘hi team’ or ‘folks’. It had been very difficult for her ‘wife’ to change ‘her’ name on the IT system with the previous name popping up all over the place months later.

What should we do to help as allies?

If you hear of any demonstrations or protests which might harm the LGBTQIS2+ turn up! Amanda hears from trans people and their families that they feel very alone and isolated. People say they care but when it comes to going to a rally or writing to a politician they don’t actually do it. Post something on social media which shows your support. Words are great but action is better. Most suicide and self-harm carried out by trans people was due to ‘lack of support’ from others.

How do we officially address a non-binary person?

Some of us use Mx (pronounced mix). When she received the Order of Ottawa last year, the City Hall used Mx to address her. What progress. However, Amanda is still happy with she/her and to be referred to as a mom, whereas Zoe didn’t want to be called dad after he transitioned, so he is known as ‘momma’ in the family now.

What would you say to parents who can’t or won’t understand their children coming out?

Our job is to love our children for who they are, not who we expect them to be. We need to help them grow into the ‘best version of themselves’.

How do you deal with inappropriate comments about your family? (I also have a non-binary child.)

Amanda gets a lot of this. She also gets a lot of hate. She now sets boundaries around this and will cut people out of her life, including friends and a couple of family members. Amanda did use to be more tolerant of people asking lots of questions, but now was more inclined to tell them to educate themselves with ‘resources’. Practice self-care.

I have four children, three of whom are probably part of the LGBTQ+ community, and I struggle to reply to questions without outing them. Any tips?

Don’t out someone without their permission. Sometimes people come up to Amanda and tell her, for example, about a neighbour’s child who used to be called that but is now called this. Amanda thinks in those situations, ‘you just told me that child’s whole life story’. (Which isn’t anything like informing 300 plus government workers of your son’s medication history, is it? Or writing a book about him.)

You can be an ally without ever mentioning that your child is ‘a member of the community’. However, it’s clearly fine to share your children’s stories directly with Amanda though and please do contact her.

As a queer youth I would like to thank all the parents in the chat who have given support for people like me to grow. They need your support more than you can ever imagine. Thank you for not being hateful. – Comment from attendee.
What literature do you recommend for young children and teens?

Red, A Crayon’s Story for small children was good.

Also a book written by a person Amanda is friends with, called Calvin, about a ‘transgender boy’.

Older children had more choice, especially on TV, sometimes the trans-identity was just an incidental thing. Sex Education on Netflix was a good example of this.

My partner is a schoolteacher and he has a trans child in his classroom who isn’t being supported at home. What can we do to help?

Amanda gets this question a lot and it breaks her heart every time, but it really depended on the age of the child and the laws in your area and perhaps even the school board. Go with ‘safety first’ – this being whatever you can keep confidential, keep confidential. Perhaps set up a Gay-Straight Alliance/Rainbow Club.

There was an eightfold increase in suicidality and self-harm amongst trans kids when they did not receive strong support at home. Moderate support did not reduce this risk, it had to be full for it to be effective.

Use the name they want and the pronouns they asked for.

Do you think that your PTSD was complicated by being lesbian/non-binary?

Yes it was. Various walls were put up over time. As you peel the layers back you find out more and more about who you really are. Our trauma is collective and individual in the LGBTQIS2+ community. Amanda didn’t know of any studies which proved this, it’s just something she felt. A lot of it came down to having to hide who you were.

How do we capture the trauma of the LGBTQI2A+ community without creating additional trauma through data tracking?

Amanda felt out of her depth answering but she did recommend that people liberally use trigger warnings in surveys and the like. She observed that it was impossible to talk about it unless you named it.

What about books for people who have two mums at home?

Amanda knows these are out there but drew a blank trying to remember any titles. Your local library should be able to help you, especially with (the now two month long) Pride Month coming up in a few weeks’ time. Libraries would have their Pride displays out. Go to the librarians now and ask them to include your favourite or put in a special request.

Who is your non-binary role model?

Jeffrey Marsh. Jeff has a large social media following and has written a book. They are very positive and very upbeat. Jeffrey responds to comments with a lot of love. Amanda often get sassy or sarcastic, but Jeffy never does! (much). Follow him on social media.

Conclusion

So, what to say about the enigma that is Amanda Jette Knox? And why on earth was this narcissistic brain fart considered essential training for civil servants?

In answer to the first question: Not much really. Just your typical trans-soccer mom desperate for attention. The most interesting thing about Amanda is that she was forced to retreat from the ‘cis lesbian’ role she was so fully enjoying, by other trans activists, and that her son neatly threw a spanner in the works of basically everything she set out in memoir no. 1. We will see what she comes up with for memoir no. 2, due out in 2023.

On the second question, be very very afraid that governments across the Western World are hiring individuals like Knox – who is one of the most spectacular and inveterate liars I have ever come across – to train public servants.


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